Monday, August 27, 2012

For the price of 'free' - Painting Upholstery

Finally, some photos!

In the new house, Christopher gets his own office (and I get my own workshop - yes!).  However, as all of the rooms in the house are enormous (a terrible burden, we will try to stand up under it) we needed some new furniture.  Problem: We are broke.  I am pretty cheap.  Fairly broke + pretty cheap = a difficult equation, but one that can be solved when you find free furniture on the side of the road!

I'd already researched 'painting upholstery' online because I'd come to the realisation that I would most likely be purchasing a chair from one of our city thrift stores and that it would probably be hideous.  The results online looked impressive and the reviews were pretty positive so I decided to commit.  You can find detailed  instructions for how to paint furniture here on Kristy Swain's blog 'Hyphen Interiors'  and lots of pictures of impressive 'before and afters' here.

As for me, here's what I started with:

It's a nightmare!

It was also a little worse-for-wear which you can't see in the photos.  There were obvious signs of feline sabotage (just scratched up, don't worry.  I checked) and I did my best to trim off the extra bits and threads.  My friend Leah also helped at this point.  I'm pretty sure she thought I was crazy.  I'm pretty sure she still thinks I'm crazy.  Anyway...

I don't have any process pictures - I have to work on that and I promise I will!  But I do have a fantastic 'after' photo (complete with cheap IKEA pillow and nearly free lamp I scored for $7.50 at an estate auction).  All-in-all, I'd say the chair cost about $30 for the materials (paint, furniture tacks, $3/m fabric).  I challenge you to find a wing back chair you like for $30 bucks!  

I have to add: I used foam I had lying about the 'shop to pad the front of the armrests.  It's not ideal but it worked in a pinch and I wasn't willing to buy anything more for the chair.  You could get a smoother finish with more appropriate foam...but good enough for me.  I only use the good stuff when I'm actually going to sell the furniture!

 OK, so, I'm not quite finished with this yet...I do want to cover the seat cushion and get a brown throw for the back of the chair.  As for the painted upholstery was worth it once I was finished.  Because there were so many pulls in the fabric and because the fabric was a heavy tapestry, it accentuated some of the negatives of upholstery painting, namely the hardness of the fabric with paint on it.  I opted to cover some of it up with soft black fabric (see photos), and I'm happy with the result.  Totally worth it!

I am also painting this couch!  Much better results here in terms of texture of material after painting!

Here's the main section of the couch with final coats of paint.  We chose a neutral off-white (because there was a gallon of it in the 'Oops' paint section.  I pretty much only buy 'Oops' paint.  Because I am cheap).  I taped up the wood to protect it as much as I could during the painting.

Painting on upholstery doesn't look that great after the first coat.  In fact, it almost looks like you haven't painted much at all (but your arms tell you a different story! My lovely husband, Christopher, helped paint the first coat).
The second coat looks better, and the third coat is best.  Stick with it and follow those directions I linked up at the beginning of this post.  I *mostly* followed them and they worked for me!  I chose NOT to use Fabric or Textile Medium because I couldn't find it in Peterborough.  I read on another message thread that latex paint basically WAS paint with fabric medium in it, so I chanced it.  I wouldn't bother with the fabric medium unless you want to make the project more expensive.

What I most certainly WOULD recommend is sanding the fabric before your third coat.  It makes a world of difference!  In dark colours the sanding will lighten and distress the painted fabric, but your third coat will take this away and give you saturated colour again.  You may want to spot-sand after your third coat and use a thin layer of paint to touch-up where you sanded afterwards.  Your fabric will now feel more like vinyl or leather, or perhaps even outdoor furniture.  It's not cozy and cuddly, but it's a cheap fix for ugly fabric and can save furniture from the landfill which is always a plus.  It's "livable-withable" as my mother used to say, and very durable - apparently it repels animal fur and is [obviously] stain resistant!  Just do it (which my mother never said, but Nike did)!!

I will post pictures of the finished couch when I get them - it took FOREVER to paint but I think it looks awesome!  A new couch for $75?  Yes please!

Happy painting!


  1. Hi, How textured was the fabric? I am working on a chair, and the fabric is heavily textured. After 2 coats of 2 parts latex/2 parts fabric medium/1 part water, it still looks like I just poured iced tea over it!

    1. Sorry for my late reply! I hope that your chair turned out - just keep adding layers, it'll get there! Heavier fabric absorbs more paint/water and will take longer to get the desired coverage. Good luck!

  2. Hi there! great stuff, glad to drop by your page and found these very interesting and informative. Thanks for sharing, keep it up!

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  3. awesome! It's true haven't seen you put much painting up here in a while, but really

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  4. I am an upholsterer & so the concept of painting furniture is new on me. Firstly, great job - your chair looks amazing! Can you help clarify for me: how is it that you can paint fabric and still enjoy sitting on it? What about odor? Stickiness? etc?

    1. Hi Alex, thanks for stopping by...
      In my experience, painting furniture is a great quick fix, but I'm not sure that I would use it for an everyday sofa or comfy chair. The reality is that the paint does make the fabric stiffer (but not completely uncomfortable). I would compare it most closely to outdoor fabric when it's all said and done. The chair pictured was actually in pretty rough shape in terms of the fabric - it had been shredded by cats so all of that 'roughage' ended up being just that: rough. The couch that I painted is now housed in our sunroom and it's perfect there! With some throw pillows and a throw blanket is great for relaxing in that space. Bottom line: it's a cheap fix for a piece that isn't an heirloom, but won't really cut it for everyday furniture. Hope that helps!

  5. I have a question concerning using permanent markers or paint pens on wood furniture. Doesn't it smear when you put the clear coating on? How do you finish the furniture piece? I love the clock piece.

    1. Hello! Thanks for your question. What I've found over time is that some markers smear or 'brown' while others don't. The troubling thing with this is that I can't be sure which markers will do this and which won't. My workaround now is that I will paint a thin coat of Mod Podge over the permanent marker area wait for it to dry, and then seal it as usual with my top coat of choice (usually floor sealant). This stops the possibility of smudging and browning (the browning is caused by some sort of chemical reaction between the floor sealant and the permanent marker....yuck!). Great question!

      Also, paint pens never have these issues! They're more expensive, but perhaps worth the investment if you're only doing the occasional piece - or for personal use.

  6. Did you saturate the fabric with water before or add water in the paint?